The Timberwolves started draft night with one first-round pick. They ended it with two.
President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly moved down and then back up in the draft on Thursday, swinging four separate deals as he made his first draft with the Wolves an eventful one.
As the Wolves came up on the clock at No. 19 overall, they dealt with the Grizzlies to move back and take Memphis’ 22nd and 29th picks — but they weren’t done.
The Wolves kept the first of those picks and selected Auburn center Walker Kessler at No. 22, but before they could pick at No. 29, Connelly completed a deal with Houston for No. 26 and selected Wendell Moore from Duke.
The Wolves busy draft room liked how the night had unfolded in front of them and figured they could get two quality players they had been targeting by moving back. Connelly said trade talk started slow, but around picks Nos. 8 and 9, the trade calls started to get more “actionable.” He credited his front office with managing the chaos.
“That room did such a fantastic job forecasting what we thought it might be. It allowed us some flexibility because we had a pretty good lay of the land,” Connelly said. “… Those guys were surgical. I’m just the dumb guy trying to execute it all.”
The Wolves traded out of No. 19 and also sent a 2023 second-round pick as part of the Memphis deal. In the trade with Houston, which had previously acquired No. 26 from Dallas, the Wolves dealt No. 29 and two future second-round picks.
Second-round currency was on the move everywhere. The Wolves traded back with Charlotte from No. 40 to No. 45 and picked up a 2023 second-rounder that belongs to the Knicks. Horse No. 45, they took forward Josh Minott out of Memphis, an upside prospect the Wolves liked. They then traded No. 48 to Indiana for a future second-round pick and cash and kept their No. 50 pick to select Matteo Spagnolo, a guard from Italy who will remain there for now and not join the Wolves right away, Connelly said.
Connelly couldn’t comment specifically on the Wolves’ first-rounders or Minott, since their trades weren’t finalized. He spoke in generalities about how the draftees may fit more in the future than immediately.
“We were looking for personality types. We were looking for guys that we can grow with long term,” Connelly said. “We don’t want to put too much expectations on their ability to contribute right away. When you have a team that had as much success as we did, it’s hard to put that on your shoulders.”
With their first pick the Wolves went for size and a potential rim protector in Kessler, who was a big part of Auburn’s season in which the Tigers earned a No. 2 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Kessler was the Naismith National Defensive Player of the Year.
The Wolves could use a rim protector and size in the frontcourt and they got some in Kessler, who was renowned for his shot-blocking ability. He swatted an eye-popping 4.6 shots per game in his lone season at Auburn after transferring from North Carolina.
Last season the Wolves played a defensive scheme that required center Karl-Anthony Towns to be on the perimeter to hedge screens and guard players along the perimeter. Players would then scramble behind Towns to guard the rim. Kessler could help them guard the rim if he can contribute right away.
Connelly said a priority for the Wolves this offseason was to add rebounding to their roster after finishing last season as the third-worst team in defensive rebounding percentage. Kessler averaged 8.1 rebounds per game along with 11.4 points. He shot 61% from the field but shot just 20% on 1.5 three-point attempts per game. But just where Kessler fits next season, if at all, is a question mark.
In Moore, the Wolves are acquiring a wing who blossomed in his third season at Duke after struggling in his first two. Moore averaged 13.4 points in helping Duke reach the Final Four. He improved his three-point shooting from 30% to 41% from his sophomore to junior season.
Moore drew high marks from draft evaluators for his ability to play on and off the ball and could score off the dribble. He also was a solid defender who could guard multiple positions. The Wolves are betting that Moore can keep progressing from his junior year while overcoming what some analysts think is a lack of athleticism.
“I think we got better,” Connelly said. “I’m not going to put unfair expectations of what they’re going to do on the court. Most rookies don’t make a huge impact, but I do think when you add the type of people we added, I think the organization got better.”
The second-round picks will be developmental projects for the Wolves, as Minott averaged 6.6 points mostly off the bench during his lone season in Memphis. Minott has athleticism to play in the NBA but likely would need to work on his shot. Spagnolo averaged 12.2 points playing for Vanoli Cremona in Italian Lega A. The Wolves also signed Champlin Park’s Theo John to their summer league team, according to an Athletic report.
At first, the draft was quiet pertaining to trades as the first 10 picks all stayed with the teams that selected them. The Wolves didn’t sit idly by as the trades began shortly thereafter. However, point guard D’Angelo Russell, whose status has been the subject of the trade rumor mill of later, was still on the Wolves on the roster as the draft went along Thursday, the first significant window for trading in the offseason.
Connelly came into the night expecting his staff to argue and debate picks and strategy. He said he got what he wanted.
“You kidding me? I’ve already had a couple beer, I’m so sick of it,” Connelly said. “… No shortage of arguing, which is great. No shortage of debate. Wouldn’t have it any other way.”